Do Not Divorce Except For Fornication
A Scripture Study From Pastor ObadiYah
(Editor’s Note......This article resumes the Shofar series on Yahushuah’s commandments and is intended for adults. As seen from its title, the subject of divorce and fornication is discussed. Parents should decide whether this is appropriate reading material for their youngsters at this time.)
“It was said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.’ (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) But I say to you that whoever shall put away (divorce) his wife, saving for the cause of lewdness (fornication), causes her to commit adultery. Whoever shall marry her who is divorced, commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
First and foremost, although we just read an “exception clause” regarding fornication, YAH is not in favor of divorce and His standards for marriage are evident in HIS Word. “For YHVH, the Elohim of Yisra’El, says that He hates putting away (divorce). ‘For, one covers violence with his garment,’ says YHVH of hosts (“tzaviot”). Therefore, take heed to your spirit that you deal not treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16) Pharisees came to tempt Him, saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away (divorce) his wife for every cause?” He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who made them, at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh.’ Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh. Therefore, what Elohim has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They say to Him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives. But from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:3-8) To the married, I command, yet not I, but Adonai (Yahushuah), “Let not the wife depart (divorce) from her husband. But, if she departs (divorces), let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. Let not the husband put away (divorce) his wife.” But to the rest, I (Paul) speak, not Adonai: “If any brother has a wife who believes not and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away (divorce). The woman, who has a husband who believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave (divorce) him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean. But now they are holy. But if the unbelieving depart (divorce), let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but Elohim has called us to peace. For what knows you, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or, how knows you, O man, whether you shall save your wife? (1 Cor. 7:10-16)
Yahushuah also gives a double witness against man’s practice of divorce without including an “escape” clause. He said to them, “Whoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her. If a woman shall put away her husband and be married to another, she commits adultery. (Mark 10:11-12) “Whoever puts away his wife and marries another, commits adultery. And whoever marries her who is put away from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18)
So according to YAH’s standard of righteous behavior, husband and wife are to remain married for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do they part. Yahushuah, however, gives men and women one option for getting out of a marriage: “Do Not Divorce Except For Fornication!” His command is written again in scripture along with its “exception clause.” I say to you, “Whoever shall put away his wife, except for lewdness (fornication) and shall marry another, commits adultery. Whoever marries her who is put away, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
But what exactly does Yahushuah mean by “except for fornication”? Of course, He means what He says, but does He say, what we think? Let’s take a closer look at this hot topic of divorce so that Bet Yeshurun Assembly (BYA) might better understand what Rabbi Yahushuah is teaching us.
Let’s begin by defining that “exception clause”. From Webster’s Dictionary, “fornication” means “voluntary sexual intercourse engaged in by a man, esp. an unmarried man, with an unmarried woman; voluntary sexual intercourse engaged in by an unmarried person: if the other person is married, the act of the unmarried person is sometimes considered adultery. In the Bible: any unlawful sexual intercourse including adultery, worship of idols.”
Let’s check Webster’s biblical definition with scripture. “Fornication” is translated from the Greek, “porneias” (G4202). Strong’s Concordance says this word is used to describe “harlotry (including adultery and incest; figurative idolatry”. From porneias, the English word pornography is derived, which conveys a clear picture of this sin that we are studying.
Inthe Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament),fornication is translated from “zanah” (H2181) a primitive word that means “harlotry.” Besides fornicationother words translated from zanah include “whore, harlot, etc.” Its cognate word, “taznuth” (H8457), also means “harlotry.” The root word is built upon the Hebrew letters “zayin” and “nun” (i.e. “nz”). The “zayin” or “z” pictograph is a “mattock or hoe”, tools that are used for “cutting.” The “nun” or “n” pictograph is a “seed.” Together in these pictures we can see a “cutting of the seed.” In a good sense, it speaks to “reaping a harvest.” In a bad sense, e.g. fornication, it speaks to “destroying the harvest,” or “a cutting off of the seed.”
The root scriptural meaning of fornication is an act that destroys YAH’S seed (harvest) within the earth. It doesn’t matter, if it’s via a physical, or a spiritual means. Scripturally speaking, it still equates to fornication. Thus, the fornication is best defined as “unlawful sex.” In other words, it is “Torah prohibited, i.e. scripturally prohibited sex.” Read Leviticus 18 for some examples of it. “Therefore you shall keep My ordinance that you commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that you defile not yourselves therein. I am YHVH your Elohim.” (Lev.18:30)
Recall that Torah is the seed of Elohim. So, if anyone engages in scripturally prohibited sex, no matter whether it is a physical or spiritual act, they are indeed destroying YAH’S seed. (Selah) “Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of Elohim.” (Luke 8:11)
With His exception clause, Yahushuah grants a condition for divorce, but His condition isn’t clear. For it is impossible for someone who is married to commit fornication in the modern, physical sense of that word (see Webster’s definition). When a married person has illicit sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse, it is called adultery, not fornication. So, at the very least there’s something more here than meets our eye! Therefore, we’re going to put precept with precept, line upon line, and consider this subject here a little and there a little to find out just what Rabbi Yahushuah intended.
When Yahushuah identifies fornication within His “exception clause”, He doesn’t refer to a woman committing adultery. In Torah, such an act was punishable by death. (Leviticus 20:10)
To properly understand what Yahushuah meant we must first understand porneias from a scriptural viewpoint. That said, let’s study His exception clause on divorce: “saving for the cause of fornication” (Matthew 5:32). The words “saving for” are translated from “parektos” (G3924), a compound Greek word of “para” (G3844) and “ektos” (G1622). “Para” means “near; from beside” and “ektos” means “the exterior, aside from, outside.” Together, they speak to an exception (i.e. something near, but aside from the principle matter). So, men or women are not to divorce their spouses except for “the cause” which follows.
So, let’s examine the words of Yahushuah that follow. The word “cause” is translated from “logos” (G3056). It means “something said (literally), including the idea or concept, demand or decree.” It can speak to prophecy (the teachings and instructions of Elohim, etc.). Interestingly, it doesn’t actually speak to a particular act, deed, or work. In fact, scripture often gives a contrast with such, as the following verses show. One of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said to Him, “Are you only a stranger in Jerusalem and have not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “Concerning Yahushuah of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word (logos) before Elohim and all the people. (Luke 24:18-19) “For, I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Mashiach has not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word (logos) and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit (Ruach) of Elohim; so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Mashiach.” (Rom. 15:18-19) “Let such a one think this, that such as we are in word (logos) by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.” (2 Cor. 10:11)
“Whatsoever you do in word (G3056) or deed, do all in the name of Adonai Yahushuah, giving thanks to Elohim and the Father by Him. (Col. 3:17) “Therefore, brethren, stand fast. Hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word (logos), or our epistle. Now, our Adonai Yahushuah ha’Mashiach Himself, and Elohim, even our Father, who loves us and gives us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish in you every good word (logos) and work.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17) “My little children, let us not love in word (logos), neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Indeed, this is interesting, for if Yahushuah had spoken of fornication as defined today (from Webster’s, “an act of intercourse between unmarried partners”), He could have said other words like: “praxis” (G4234) meaning “a practice, act, a doing, a mode of acting;” “ergon” (G2041) meaning “toil, work, deed, act;” or “poiesis” (G4162) meaning “an action.” Instead, He chose to say logos, which speaks to The Word and commandments of Elohim!
Let’s read other scripture verses that use “logos.” It came to pass that as the people pressed upon Him to hear the word (“logos”) of Elohim; He stood by the lake of Gennesaret. (Luke 5:1) Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word (“logos”) of Elohim, they sent to them Peter and John. (Acts 8:14) “For we are not as many, who corrupt the word (logos) of Elohim, but as of sincerity, but as of Elohim. In the sight of Elohim, we speak in Mashiach. (2 Corinthians 2:17) “You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying (“logos”), namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9) “For all the law is fulfilled in one word (logos), even in this; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Now that we have examined “the cause”, i.e., “the logos/Word of Elohim,” let’s proceed on with the final part of the exception clause (i.e. “of fornication” from Matthew 5:32). This phrase is translated from “porneias” (G4202), which is a noun in the genitive/possessive, singular, female case word. In the context of the rest of the passage it denotes that Yahushuah refers to the wife possessing the “fornication.” This explains why it’s translated “of fornication” and not just “fornication”. Based upon the aforementioned, an alternative translation of the ‘exception clause’ could read “except for the Word of Elohim concerning lewdness.”
Now, let us study the similar clause, “except for fornication” (as found in Matthew 19:9) “Except” is translated from “ei me” (G1508) which means “except, if not, but”. The word “for” is “epi” (G1909), which is a preposition governing the genitive (possessive) “on/upon” in the sense of possessing something that proceeds or springs from something and lands on, upon, or at something else. It’s also in the dative case denoting the means via the idea of landing or resting “on/in/at” something and of motion towards resting on, in, or at a place or thing. It implies actual superposition, as one thing resting upon another as upon a foundation or basis that may be actual, moral, or immoral!
“Fornication means “lewdness” i.e. “unlawful sex.” It’s a noun being used in the dative singular female case denoting the means by which something is done. In light of this information, an alternative and more accurate understanding of this “exception clause” can be read as “except she be on/in (in the sense of resting on/in) fornication.”
Now let us reconsider the alternative translations for the two “exception clauses” as we put line upon line to help bring out nuances we might otherwise miss. For Matthew 5:32: it can read “except for the Word i.e. the Word of Elohim of i.e. (she possesses/in possession of/concerning) fornication.”Or, it can read, “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, “except for the Word i.e. the Word of El (she possesses/in possession of/concerning) fornication”, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her who is divorced commits adultery.”
And for Matthew 9:19: it can read “except she be established in lewdness.” Or, it can read, “And I say to you, whosoever shall put away his wife, “except she be (in the sense of resting) on/in fornication”, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoso marries her who is put away does commit adultery.”
Now consider this, perhaps Yahushuah isn’t addressing fornication in the sense of it being related to a wife’s an extra marital affair as this speaks to adultery rather than fornication. “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives. But if the husband is dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. But if her husband is dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress although she is married to another man.” (Romans 7:2-3)
That said, let’s consider here a little and there a little regarding “scriptural” fornication to see what we can deduce: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such porneias as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.” (1 Cor. 5:1) “Flee porneias! Every sin that a man does is without the body, but he who commits porneias sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Those two verses confirm fornication/porneias is associated with sin (lawlessness). Keep in mind sin is the transgression of Torah. “Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law (Torah). For, sin is the transgression of Torah (the teachings and instructions of Elohim). (1 John 3:4)
These next verses teach that fornication can be purely physical. “Mortify therefore, your members which are upon the earth; porneias, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. For which things' sake the wrath of Elohim comes on the children of disobedience: In which you also walked some time, when you lived in them.” (Colossians 3:5-7) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murder, drunkenness, reveling, and such like. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of Elohim. (Galatians 5:19-21)
You may have noticed that within the two previous scripture passages that fornication is also associated with worshiping other gods. This speaks to “spiritual fornication”. Moreover, he (Jehoram) made high places in the mountains of Judah and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication and compelled Judah thereto. And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, “Thus says YHVH Elohim of David your father, ‘Because you walked not in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but walked in the way of the kings of Israel and made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also slain your brethren of your father's house, who were better than yourself: Behold, with a great plague will YHVH smite your people, your children, your wives and all your goods. And you shall have great sickness by disease of your bowels, until your bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day. (2 Chronicles 21:1-15) “And it came to pass after all your wickedness (‘Woe! Woe, unto you!’ says Sovereign YHVH) that you also built unto you an eminent place and made a high place in every street. You built your high place at every head of the way, made your beauty to be abhorred, opened your feet to every one who passed by, and multiplied your whoredoms. You also committed fornication (zanah) with the Egyptians your neighbors, great of flesh; and increased your whoredoms, to provoke me to anger.” (Ezekiel 16:23-26) “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication (porneias), and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.” (Jude 1:7-8) “Neither let us commit fornication (porneias) as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” (1 Corinthians 10:8)
Paul’s last verse refers to an incident involving Balaam and Baal-Peor of Moab whereby 24,000 were killed of YAH. (Numbers 25) The following verses teach us that “fornication” can be physical and spiritual combined. Israel abode in Shittim and the people began to commit whoredom (zanah) with the daughters of Moab. They called the people to the sacrifices of their gods. The people did eat and bowed down to their gods. Israel joined himself unto Baal-Peor and the anger of YHVH was kindled against Israel. (Numbers 25:1-3)
We can deduce that “fornication” in scripture, first and foremost speaks, to sin (lawlessness). In other words, it speaks to breaking the laws of Elohim, especially those concerning sex, such as described in scripture (Leviticus 18). Scripture identifies how people commit “fornication” physically through illicit sexual relations as well as how they commit fornication spiritually through worshipping other gods (mighty ones, idols). In fact, people can commit “fornication” in a combination of both the physical and spiritual aspects.
With this understanding of what constitutes fornication in scripture we’re in a position to determine what Yahushuah meant with His exception clauses (as entailed within Matt. 5:32 and 19:9). So, let’s reconsider our retranslated versions of Matthew 5:32: “But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife, “except for the Word i.e. the Word of El (she possesses/in possession of/concerning) fornication”, causes her to commit adultery. And whosoever shall marry her who is divorced commits adultery.”
YAH teaches here that whosoever shall divorce his wife except for the Word of Elohim already forbidding the marriage in the first place commits adultery. For instance, say someone went away to college and met someone, fell in love and got married, but later found out that the person they married was actually their sibling. Whether they are a half or whole sibling matters not. Or, say they found out their mate was in fact their aunt, uncle, etc. (see Leviticus 18) whether they have children together, been married for ten years, or a combination of the two, matters not. Such marriages are forbidden of YAH and by their very nature are acts of fornication and grounds for divorce.
Remember, the exception clause doesn’t refer to committing fornication per se, but speaks to a wife being forbidden to a man ever to marry in the first place by The Word of Elohim concerning fornication i.e. lewdness. Scripture gives an example with King Herod and his wife Herodias: At that time Herod the Tetrarch heard of the fame of Yahushuah and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has risen from the dead and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. For, John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matt. 14:1-4)
John dared to expose the truth concerning King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, so he was murdered. That didn’t change the fact that Herod and Herodias, regardless of marriage contract or ceremony, still lived in sin and their marriage was established upon fornication. (Mathew 19:9) And I say to you, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, ‘except she be (in the sense of resting) on/in fornication’, and shall marry another, commits adultery. And whoso marries her who is put away does commit adultery.”
Yahushuah doesn’t speak of a man divorcing his wife for fornication in the modern sense of the word. This would be adultery, not fornication. On the other hand, what YAH says is that whosoever divorces his wife except the marriage be established in fornication/lewdness i.e. unlawful sex commits adultery. The only way she could rest on/in fornication without committing an act of adultery is by the marriage itself resting on/in fornication (see Lev. 18).
Now that we’ve nailed down what Yahushuah’s exception clause refers to in terms of divorce, let’s address the subject of ‘spiritual fornication’, which essentially speaks to being unequally yoked, such as one married to an unbeliever. Under Yahushuah’s “exception clause” this is in fact grounds for divorce, but Apostle Paul speaks against doing so: “But to the rest speak I, not Yahushuah: If any brother has a wife who believes not and she is pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away (divorce). And a woman who has a husband who believes not and if he is pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him (divorce). For, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart (divorce), let him depart (divorce). A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But Elohim has called us to peace.” (1 Cor. 7:10-15)
Why should BYA listen to Apostle Paul anyway? After all, his writing isn’t Elohim’s command, but a man’s. In response to this notion, let’s consider first and foremost that Apostle Paul was chosen and sanctioned by Yahushuah Himself. (Acts 22) Additionally, Paul’s writings are supported by Apostle Peter (Kephas) who was serving as head of Yahushuah’s ecclesia at that time. “Account that the longsuffering of Adonai is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him has written to you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they who are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16) This gives BYA two witnesses “that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matthew 18:16) Selah.
Let it be duly noted, whether or not you decide to adhere to the command of Paul concerning the matter, know that even though ‘spiritual fornication’ essentially speaks to being an unbeliever, it isn’t being an unbeliever in of itself. For ‘spiritual fornication’ speaks to the worship of other gods. Simply being an unbeliever doesn’t necessarily equate to worshipping other gods. Thus, if you married someone who professes Yahushuah as their Adonai and savior regardless of how they choose to believe, and likewise regardless of if you agree or disagree with the way they choose to believe, be it right or wrong, if they aren’t professing to worship other gods, there is no spiritual fornication, and therefore no cause for divorce. In HIS service, Pastor ObadiYah
Thoughts for Meditation:
“An angel’s arm can’t snatch me from the grave; legions of angels can’t confine me there.” Edward Young
“God’s mercy and compassion are unbounded. None of us has a perfect record; we are in need of ongoing conversion. But even more: God’s love and welcome are always waiting for us.” Jorge Mario Bergoglio
“To design the future effectively, you must first let go of your past.” Charles J. Givens
“Change is inevitable except from a vending machine.” Robert C. Gallagher